Consumers against Consumption

A favorite complaint of liberal theologians is that we live in a consumer society.  "Consumer society" is one of those phrases that seem to mean something until you think about them.  No society has ever been without consumers.  Indeed, no one has ever not been a consumer, not even a liberal theologian.

The complaint here is really that we have too much to consume.  The moral superiority of people in poor countries is an old trick of the hypocrites.  They can think well of people as long as they are far away.  The peasants in Bangladesh may resent our wealth, I suppose, but only because they don't have it.  They, like virtually all people everywhere, see nothing wrong with wealth as long as it's theirs.

So a consumer society is a society, like the United States, in which vast numbers of people are materially better off than even the rich were a few decades ago, and hypocritical liberal theologians moan when people are poor and groan when they aren't.

If there is something wrong with a consumer society, there must be something wrong with the consumers.  To complain about a consumer society is to complain about consumers, that is, the members of this perversely named society, which is distinguished from other societies by having more to consume, not by having a greater desire for consumption.

To complain about a consumer society is to imagine oneself morally and intellectually superior to other people, as if the hypocrites have never bought anything in the vain hope that it would make them happy.  They prefer cars that don't break down on the freeway and computers that don't crash, just like the rest of us.  They have the same problem with rich food and drink that we have.

They are not somehow less desirous of comfort and ease than police officers and nurses.  They do not give more of themselves than soliers do, or mothers and fathers.  They are certainly not more accepting of people who think differently -- or even of people who look different.

Perhaps a silly little mother shouldn't waste her carbon quota on a frilly little dress for her silly little girl, but who am I to judge?  I would have spent my money on something more edifying, like a book on Christian meditation by a left-wing radical or a bogus history of Islam.

One of the many conceits of liberals is that they alone see through the deceits of advertising.  Other men may think that all they have to do to seduce a bevy of beautiful young women is to purchase a particular brand of mass-produced beer, but liberals would never be so shallow.  Other women may think that all they have to do to look like starlets is to shop at discount stores, but liberals would never be so vain. 

Leftist have condemned advertising for more than a century.  Opposition to advertising was a communist staple -- until the commissars discovered that they couldn't run the economy without it.  All that is new, if anything is new, is that some of the commissars have taken holy orders.

Liberals don't see anything wrong with being a consumer when they are reading Consumer Reports.  They think that consumers are oppressed, and they are the vanguard of the downtrodden buyers of stereo equipment and automatic bread machines.  Then they look up from the page and look down on people who choose to spend their money in ways liberals don't approve of, even when they buy the same things liberals buy. 

Other people are materialistic, defining themselves by consumption of gaudy baubles; they appreciate the finer things in life.  Other people are gauche; they are refined.  They refuse to waste their money on cheap consumer goods.  They know better than that.  They waste their money on quality items.  Other people are selfish, preferring to spend their money on trivialities; they are selfless, preferring to spend other people's money on the poor.

They have given us another example of the impoverishment of our language -- and of our lives: "Charity" not so long ago had two main meanings, now for most people just one.  Charity now only means giving to the poor; it no longer means thinking well of others.

"Generosity" has suffered a similar contraction of meaning.  A generous person now only gives things; a truly generous person cannot see the beam in his neighbor's eye for the mote in his own.

Charity covers a multitude of sins, and in this sinful age we have a multitude to cover.  We need both covers, the cover of giving to the poor and the cover of thinking well of others.  For every verse in the Gospels instructing us to give to the poor, there is another verse, a more intense verse, warning us not to judge.

Our sins, or at least our sinful natures, are the arena in which we battle the most fearsome of foes: ourselves.  They do not prevent us from winning splendid victories: without them we could not win the most splendid of all victories.  Without them, we would be like basketball players shooting hoops two feet above the ground and ten feet wide. 

If we were not in our sins, we would not have to overcome ourselves and would have only easy tasks, establishing colonies on Mars, for instance, or harnessing nuclear fusion.  Surely, it is harder for an alcoholic to put a glass down or for a drug addict to have a normal day than it is for someone who does not have their problems to accomplish great things.  People are doing hard things all the time we are busy thanking God or ourselves or the television set that we are not like them.  It's harder for some people to show up for work on time than it is for others to climb Mt. Everest.

What's great about America is that it's a place where people keep getting up off the floor and trying again.  We may have done the same corrupt and idiotic thing a hundred and one times before and sworn a hundred times not to do it again, but we will try once more, really try, even knowing our miserable record of failure. 

And most of us will eventually succeed.  The country is full of people who have quit drinking or smoking, or cheating, or whatever horrible thing they used to do.

What's wrong with the churches that are wrong is the people in them, especially the people in charge, and what's wrong with the people in charge is the same thing that is wrong with everyone else: sin. 

The sins of the clergy are not unique to them, of course, but clergy commit them to an extraordinary degree.  It takes a cleric to preach against casting the first stone while denouncing his countrymen as indifferent to plight of the poor and bigoted to an appalling degree.  These men and women of God may think they know how many source texts Genesis has or Matthew, but they do not notice the obvious: that they are condemned by every book of the Bible.

Lack of charity is the besetting sin of the clergy, not that all clergy lack charity, but that when clergy sin, they do so from lack of charity.  They want the government to give to the poor so they don't have to, and they love to judge people for being judgmental.

They do not see people for what they are: small creatures, weak, infirm, ill-educated, superstitious, instinctively selfish and cruel, trying somehow to survive emotionally in a bewildering world full of temptation, but nonetheless by the grace of God capable of charity and generosity in all senses and of enduring until the end.

In fairness, I must admit that I am not a member of the clergy and am not subject to the temptations clergy alone are subject to.  And these temptations must be overwhelming; otherwise, there would not be so many who have succumbed.